Election campaigns are one of the most disappointing parts of politics from an analysis point of view. Rarely do campaigns actually sway the result as much as people like to think. Clearly they are vital and manifestos etc. are essential. However, all too often the manifesto and the campaign itself are the out workings of the almost inevitable result.
As examples the disastrous longest suicide note in British political history of Labour’s 1983 campaign was merely the outworking of an election which was lost before it started. Equally the UUP’s disaster (complete with short snappy bullet to the head manifesto) of 2005 was pretty unsurprising.
There are exceptions: John Major did win the 1992 election whilst Thatcher would probably have lost it (as I have pointed out before, however, the orthodox view of politics is often very simplified – hindsight is far from 20/20).
Occasionally though something comes along which loses a candidate an election or so upsets the campaign that it makes a predictable win much more uncertain. This seems to be happening to Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election. Khan was comfortably ahead of Zac Goldsmith who’s campaign had been rather lack lustre and indeed had created some of its own problems skirting rather close to racism. There were customised leaflets trying to exploit possible anti muslim feelings amongst other ethnic and religious minorities; and Goldsmith himself had used innuendo against Khan in interviews.
Whilst controversial none of these episodes was remotely as toxic as Ken Livingstone’s scarcely believable intervention to support Naz Shah. To put the folly of this comment into context Godwin’s Law is widely seen on internet debating fora (not always the place for considered debate) as demonstrating that bringing the Nazis into a discussion means that the one so doing has lost the argument.
Rather than using the Nazis and their views as a point of attack, however, Livingstone managed to end up with the concept that Hitler supported a Jewish homeland in Israel.
Even if there is some vague and tendentious mechanism by which a tiny grain of pseudo truth can be extracted form such a monstrous perversion of history, it is so small a grain as to be irrelevant (and indeed the idea and the book on which Livingstone based it has been rubbished by at least one serious academic). It is correct that the actual plan to achieve a systematic mass murder of all the Jews in Europe was only finalised in 1942. However, to suggest that Hitler supported Zionism until suddenly he “went mad” is unbelievable.
It is so unbelievable that many have suggested Livingstone’s motives must be simple anti-Semitism.
That motivation (anti-Semitism) may be correct but even if it were the timing is still bizarre. If Livingstone is an anti-Semite (and this is not the first time he has run into such problems) it still raises the question as to why he has said this now. This intervention has significantly derailed Sadiq Khan’s mayoral bid (something Khan has admitted – as well as condemning Livingstone in the strongest terms). Indeed Ben Bradshaw has suggested that Livingstone is a Tory plant.
Livingstone has been a member of the Labour Party for decades but he has also pursued his own agenda pretty mercilessly for just as long. Most remember that he first came to prominence as leader of the Greater London Council. Fewer remember that he orchestrated an internal Labour coup replacing the GLC Labour leader Andrew McIntosh within 24 hours of Labour winning the 1981 GLC election.
The GLC was of course the favourite bête noir of Margaret Thatcher and the Tory press (it was the original of the term “Loony Left” – though many of its “loony” policies are now mainstream). After the end of the GLC in 1986 Livingstone turned to Westminster but also developed a successful media career as a broadcaster and even a Sun columnist.
This gradual transformation into “political respectability” no doubt helped him win the first directly elected London Mayoral election in 2000. Again all too often forgotten (not least by the Labour Party) is that Livingstone did not win that election for Labour. He was an independent candidate who stood against Frank Dobson after Dobson defeated Livingstone for the Labour nomination in a process which was felt to have been designed by Blair and New Labour to stop Livingstone gaining the nomination.
Livingstone was back in the fold by 2004 but lost to Boris Johnston in both 2008 and 2012. At the time it was suggested by some that after decades in the public eye Livingstone was seen as tired and less relevant. He was given a new lease of life by Jeremy Corbyn’s election but his star has been on the wane for years now. In the mayoral race up to this point he has been hardly noticed. Sadiq Khan has not used him much and his views have not been heavily canvassed by the national media.
One always needs to be very careful interpreting the motives of other people especially in a negative light. This episode, however, seems to smack of a Livingstone keen to reassert his relevance in the media spotlight especially when the timing is relevant to the issue that made him a major figure – the London mayoral election. Furthermore the cynical might suggest that he could be less than delighted to have been sidelined during this campaign up to now.
Livingstone’s ridiculous (and deeply offensive) conspiracy theory about the Nazis and Zionism seems what it is – ridiculous. A less offensive and possibly less ridiculous conspiracy theory might be that Livingstone would be privately quite pleased to see Khan lose and hence, that he would be the only left wing candidate to have been London mayor. Indeed by that view of it Livingstone might have more similarities than he cares to imagine with Tony Blair who seemed less than heart broken when Brown and Milliband failed to win for Labour and left him as the only victorious Labour leader in a generation.
To claim, as Bradshaw has claimed, that Livingstone has deliberately sabotaged Khan’s campaign because he is a closet Tory is clearly ridiculous. To say that he did it because he wants to be the only one who won for Labour… well to quote Francis Urquhart:” you might very well think that: I could not possibly comment.”